Veteran journalist Howard Kurtz chided the media's "romance" of departing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on CNN's Reliable Sources on Sunday, asking "But, particularly in those TV interviews, could you see any Republican outgoing cabinet member getting that kind of treatment?" Another example came in Sunday's New York Times's front-page review of Clinton's career by Michael Gordon and Mark Landler, "Backstage Glimpses of Clinton as Dogged Diplomat, Win or Lose." The Times opened with the administration's hand-wringing over assisting the Syrian resistance (Clinton's more activist support for the rebels was rebuffed at the White House).
Yet the more damaging controversy over the assassination of four Americans at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was mentioned just twice in the 1,674-word story, once as a "low point" for Clinton, but balanced with the "biggest highlight" of her term -- the diplomatic opening to Myanmar. The other reference noted that while the incident may have "marred" her last months of service, she still has the highest favorability ratings of her career.
The paper also celebrated her "legacy" based on frequent flier miles, a stat that reporter Landler can't get enough of (never mind that her predecessor Condoleezza Rice flew more, as Landler admitted deep into his previous hagiography).
As she leaves the State Department, the simplest yardstick for measuring Mrs. Clinton’s legacy has been her tireless travels: 112 countries, nearly a million miles, 401 days on the road. Historians will point to how she expanded the State Department’s agenda to embrace issues like gender violence and the use of social media in diplomacy.
“We do need a new architecture for this new world: more Frank Gehry than formal Greek,” Mrs. Clinton said in a speech last week that served as both a valedictory and a reminder of why she remained the nation’s most potent political figure aside from Mr. Obama.
And yet, interviews with more than a dozen current and former officials also paint a more complex picture: of a dogged diplomat and a sometimes frustrated figure who prized her role as team player, but whose instincts were often more activist than those of a White House that has kept a tight grip on foreign policy.
The disclosures about Mrs. Clinton’s behind-the-scenes role in Syria and Myanmar -- one a setback, the other a success -- offer a window into her time as a member of Mr. Obama’s cabinet. They may also be a guide to her thinking as she ponders a future run for the presidency with favorability ratings that are the highest of her career, even after her last months at the State Department were marred by the deadly attack on the American Mission in Benghazi, Libya.
Supporting Kurtz's point about political double standards, George W. Bush's secretary of state Condoleezza Rice was treated with hostility at the Times over the Iraq War and other matters. Helene Cooper reached back to Rice's previous role as Bush's national security adviser to write on September 1, 2007 that "as national security adviser she largely served as a rubber stamp for a series of foreign policy blunders, during a period that critics say will ultimately weigh most heavily on her legacy."